Local officials: Incidents do not indicate larger racial issue in Douglas County schools

Social media brought to light a fight, graffiti from earlier in the school year


Authorities from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the Douglas County School District say two incidents — one involving a student fight and the other derogatory graffiti — at a Highlands Ranch high school are not indicative of a larger racial issue in the school district.

“These are two isolated events and there is nothing to show a pattern or increase in these events in the district,” said Sgt. Lori Bronner, public information officer for the district’s school resource officers.

School district Superintendent Thomas Tucker echoed Bronner’s statement but also emphasized that the district does not tolerate discriminatory incidents.

“They are not reflective of our school community,” Tucker said. “There is no room for hate. There is no room for ethnic bias. There is no room for mistreatment of others in our district.”

The first incident occurred in August but resurfaced Nov. 27 when a video of a fight between two Mountain Vista High School students, one white and one black, circulated on a Twitter feed, garnering attention from several parents and community members. The thread, which was started by a man from Maryland who appears to have an interest in issues involving racism, also brought to light derogatory slogans spray-painted on a golf cart and wall at Mountain Vista at the end of September.

During lunch on Aug, 22, a 14-year-old white student wearing a green, military-style coat performed a T-Pose, according to a report from the sheriff’s office. The pose has been associated with the Ku Klux Klan to represent a burning cross, Bronner said, though it wasn’t clear that was the meaning the student intended. The same student also used a racial slur during the incident, according to Bronner.

MORE: MVHS student opinion piece on the fight

The black student, 14, challenged the white student about the pose. The black student then spit on the white student, according to Bronner. The white student spit back, and the black student swung at him. The white student then grabbed a landscaping rock and threw it at the other student but missed. The black student came after him, hitting and kicking him on the ground until school authorities intervened, Bronner said.

Both students were charged with harassment and disorderly conduct, according to Bronner. The white student was also charged with criminal attempt of assault and the black student was charged with assault. All charges were filed as misdemeanors. To Bronner’s knowledge, the students are back at school.

The school’s principal, Mike Weaver, did alert parents in an email at the time of the incident.

In the second incident, which occurred in late September, a racial slur was spray-painted on a golf cart and wall at the high school, Bronner said. The slur was directed toward African-Americans.

The number of reported incidents showing racial or ethnic bias in Colorado schools has increased, according to Jeremy Shaver, associate regional director for the Colorado Anti-Defamation League.

“Our office is receiving an increased number of calls about incidents in schools, whether it be vandalism, graffiti, verbal or written threats, slurs being used, chants being spoken,” Shaver said, pointing out that the political climate has had an impact on young people. “In some cases, students are not seeing the right role modeling happening.”

Stacey Hervey, associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Metropolitan State University, said oftentimes teenagers engage in the behaviors for the thrill.

“They don’t know the significance or meaning of what they are doing,” Hervey said.

Hervey pointed out that in today’s political climate, some people — including adults — are feeling more welcome to display hatred or extremism.

“Sometimes kids can hear that and not understand all the ramifications,” Hervey said.

Authorities from the school district and law enforcement emphasize that the incidents do not represent a larger trend across the district.

Paula Hans, the district’s public information officer, said much of the information circulating on social media is inaccurate.

The school district’s policy on disciplinary actions is to work with law enforcement to determine what happened, gather witness statements and interviews, look into any prior issues and contact family members, Hans said. In cases where needed, a districtwide suspension policy is followed. Hans would not say whether the two students involved in the August fight faced any disciplinary action at school, citing the confidentiality of student records.

Tucker said the incidents can serve as teaching moments.

“It’s also an opportunity for us to continue teaching and practicing respect,” Tucker said. “Respect of ourselves, respect of others.”


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